Terrorism

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 15th December 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 2:30 pm, 15th December 2004

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their assessment of progress in winning hearts and minds in the international action to combat global terrorism.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, varied. Although we condemn the activities of Al'Qaeda and other terrorist groups, we also recognise that actual and perceived injustices, poverty, economic and political exclusion and religious intolerance provide fertile soil in which terrorism can grow. We are endeavouring to tackle these through dialogue on economic progress, education, human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Most recently, the forum for the future initiative is a clear example of positive movement in these areas.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does she not agree that the calculating minds behind terrorism succeed only if they have a climate of ambivalence and alienation in which to operate? Is it not therefore essential that, whatever control mechanisms need to be in place, the really tough challenge is this business of winning hearts and minds? In that context, will my noble friend assure the House that top of the Government's priority remains the need to bring the iniquities of Guantanamo Bay to a conclusion, rapidly?

It is also essential to ensure that in our own administration of immigration, asylum and community policy the dignity and self respect of those being controlled are of paramount importance all the time. We must not add to the legions of disillusioned on whom the terrorists can prey.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, this is a complicated question and to be perfectly frank, this is the sort of issue that lends itself to a full-scale debate in your Lordships' House. However, let me do my best to deal with the main points.

My noble friend says that the calculating minds behind terrorism succeed where there is a climate of ambivalence. I do not think that that is true. They flourish when some people who have truly evil intent manage to get hold of the instruments by which they cause death and destruction on a large scale. I put it to my noble friend that with the episode of 9/11 there was not so much an ambivalent climate as an opportunity.

My noble friend can say, as he does, "Ah, but thereafter that allows the climate to grow and terrorism to take root". Of course, the issues of Guantanamo, immigration and asylum must be dealt with sensitively, but I travel extensively in the Middle East and the people who tell me that they have problems with growing terrorism do not cite any of those issues to me. They cite issues about economic progress and human rights and, I am bound to say, about the Middle East peace process. Therefore, although I agree with my noble friend that it is terribly important to get behind these issues, I cannot agree with the detail of his analysis.

Photo of Lord Steel of Aikwood Lord Steel of Aikwood Liberal Democrat

My Lords, bearing in mind what the Minister has just said and the words of President Musharraf recently in Britain, will she accept that one complaint has been about the softly-softly approach taken by Western governments to some of the activities of Mr Sharon's Government, especially the rapacious route of the security wall? Does she hope for a change if Mr Shimon Peres and his party enter the Israeli Government?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I do not think that we have been as softly-softly as the noble Lord seems to imply in his question. We put tough points to the Israeli Government about the route of the barrier. I have put very tough points to them about the ways in which occupation has been dealt with and the checkpoints operate. Israel has high aspirations on human rights, but sadly sometimes falls short of those aspirations. I put those points and I put them very robustly, so I cannot accept that there is a softly-softly attitude. We need to get on better terms in an international dialogue over this issue, which I believe is one of the excuses used—I do not say that it is just cause—for international terrorism.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, can anything be done to restore the safe feeling of the international aid agencies, which have been so disillusioned recently? In the past, no matter how severe the conflict, people seemed to welcome international NGOs and aid agencies which came to help the poor people and those suffering terribly from these conditions. Recently, we have seen such occasions where people from these agencies have been forced to withdraw from areas of conflict.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, there is a great deal in what the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, says, especially in Iraq, where we have seen terrorists making a real effort to target those who are trying to bring aid and succour to areas where much needed help has been wanting and where the terrorists target certain international organisations. But many aid agencies do keep going in quite appallingly difficult circumstances—in Sudan, for example, which we recently discussed in your Lordships' House. Many also carry on in difficult circumstances in certain parts of Africa, so let us not for a moment imply that the aid agencies are not carrying out their valuable work very courageously. However, in some areas where aid agencies are specifically the targets, yes indeed, it has had a deleterious effect.

Photo of The Bishop of Oxford The Bishop of Oxford Bishop

My Lords, as regards the Minister's first reply that countering terrorism is primarily a matter of winning hearts and minds and of addressing the underlying causes of terrorism, does she agree that the phrase "war against terrorism" is extremely misleading and skews the perspective in which people see this issue?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I think that the right reverend Prelate has misunderstood me. Hearts and minds are enormously important in this battle but there is also a tougher side to our response on terrorism; let us not forget it. I refer to increased efforts regarding gathering intelligence on terrorism; a deepening of cross-departmental working relationships on counter terrorism within our own set-up in this country; developing a model on counter terrorism that many of our allies are now putting in place in their own countries; and developing broader international networks on terrorism. The fact is this is a brutal, nasty business and we cannot just approach it through winning hearts and minds. Sadly, we must sometimes adopt a fairly brutal response because the security of our own people is of paramount importance.

Photo of Lord Rea Lord Rea Labour

My Lords—

Photo of Lord Wright of Richmond Lord Wright of Richmond Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one way of winning hearts and minds is to be seen to tackle the many human rights abuses which are by no means confined to Middle East countries, and that the emphasis should be on human rights and not on trying to impose strange and unfamiliar systems of government on other countries?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I agree with what the noble Lord has said. That is why we have sought partnerships—most recently in Rabat this weekend—with the countries of the broader Middle East. However, the noble Lord is quite right; the problems extend far beyond that area. This is not a question of imposition but of forming much needed partnerships in many areas. That is why I referred to economic growth, education, democracy and rule of law issues and, of course, the all-important question of human rights.